Black law enforcement executives, activists and leading mayors have proposed a “national roadmap” that they say can help police and communities rebuild public trust while protecting public safety.
In a report entitled “The Future of Public Safety,” they appealed to government, law enforcement, businesses and community members to work together in combining data-gathering and community-oriented strategies.
“We have to build that relationship of trust, because we won’t always do it right,” said Dave Mahoney, a sheriff in Dane County, Wisconsin, reported WMTV news.
Mahoney, who is also president of the National Sheriff’s Association in Washington, D.C. representing more than 3,000 sheriffs nationwide, participated in the planning sessions for the report, collaborative effort between the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
The report follows a summer of police-reform focused protests, at a time when national trust in the police and law enforcement as a whole is already low.
C.J. Davis, immediate past president of NOBLE, admitted restoring trust was a “daunting task.”
“At this moment in our nation’s history, as we continue to witness tragic encounters between police and the communities we serve, we must ask ourselves what has happened to cause such division and chaos in our profession, law enforcement—a profession that should represent the best of who we are expected to be: guardians of nobility, integrity, and honor,” she said in the introduction to the report.
The conversations, which began in September, included a wide range of voices aimed at creating a “dialogue across difference,” the report said.
The nearly 40 participants included: community activists Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Erica Ford; police chiefs Danielle Outlaw from Philadelphia and Medaria Arradondo from Minneapolis; and Mayors Jenny Durkan from Seattle and Keisha Lance Bottoms from Atlanta.
They agreed on nine “guiding principles” for the roadmap.
- Recognizing that other community stakeholders, not just police, are involved in public safety;
- Addressing the fact that communities of color are often over-policed;
- Understanding how trauma affects people’s relationships with law enforcement;
- Challenging police and community members to combat racial bias.
While the report makes clear that public safety is a common goal for most communities, achieving it is complex, the report’s authors admitted.
Instead of simply increasing law enforcement in communities that already have a mistrust of police, the government should work on meeting basic needs for the community such as housing, schooling and food to prove that community members are being noticed and helped.
“All levels of government must also recognize that investing in education, nutrition, public health, quality housing, and reentry services are themselves investments in public safety,” said the report.
“You can’t just change up the walls and put some new paint on it when the foundation itself is broken,” added Phillipe Cunningham, city councilperson for Minneapolis’s Ward 4 in the report.
This is critical to understanding that other community stakeholders, including advocacy groups and local politicians, are as vital to protecting public safety in a community as law enforcement.
“We’ve created opportunities for safer communities, for people to walk and to interact in positive ways,” said Marc Zimmerman, Director of the Prevention Research Center of Michigan and Director of the Youth Violence Prevention Center.
“And it’s the same thing. They know that the solution to violence isn’t by bringing more police in; it’s by preventing violence in the first place. And asking: what are the root causes of violence?”
The report also called for communities to re-examine their budgets for health and safety programs.
Baltimore City was referenced as spending “more on police overtime than its entire public health budget,” neglecting dozens of services that are vital to caring for the community and ensuring public health.
Although participants disagreed on how it should be done, most felt that police budgets should at the very least be analyzed in order to determine whether or not there are funds to spare towards services that need the money.
The report also acknowledged how communities of color are often over-policed and under-resourced.
“Bias by decision makers at all stages of the justice process disadvantages Black people,” said the report. “Many communities of color are, in a way, simultaneously over-policed and under- resourced; over-policed when it comes to surveillance and social control, but under- resourced when it comes to emergency services.”
In order for trust in law enforcement to be rebuilt, addressing structural racism and implicit bias within law enforcement is essential, the report said.
Also essential is addressing how law enforcement has “criminalized mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse,” by having police respond to such issues even though they’re “not necessarily the best parties for doing so,” said the report.
While there was disagreement on how that should be changed, the report noted that at a minimum, stronger partnerships between law enforcement and social workers should be considered to help divert people to counseling and other types of assistance.
Karol Mason, president of John Jay College, noted that the report isn’t the end of the conversation, rather the beginning of a “years—or decades-long project.”
“Through the hard work of bringing together diverse voices, and through the conclusions and roadmap we present in this report, we hope to break the binary mindset that characterizes so much of the national conversation on public safety: ‘us vs. them;’ ‘law and order vs. Black Lives Matter,’” said Mason.
You can access the full report here.
This summary was prepared by TCR justice reporting intern Emily Riley